(Slight Return)

When I met her, it was Monday. We went out for a few drinks on the Tuesday. Hang on, no, that’s the wrong song. Just as well – she was getting on my fucking nerves by Wednesday. I went round to her house and she stood in the middle of the living room striking these weird poses to a Christina Aguilera track.

‘This is my song. Because I’m a fighter.’

The thing is, she really wasn’t. If I’ve realised anything in my thirty something years here, it’s that if someone has to tell you something over and over, the person they’re really trying to convince is themself. I broke it off on Thursday. She took it quite well.

‘You just have a problem with women.’

If that got me off the hook, then that was fine by me. There are seven billion opinions out there, every one of them self-serving. Worrying about what you can’t influence is a huge waste of whatever resources you have. Besides, who was I to say she was wrong? She was just as entitled to the truth as I am.

‘This is my song.’

Another time, another era, but the same old bullshit that never seems to go away. My mother is playing Stand by your Man by Tammy Wynette. My stepfather is having another affair, and as usual she’s the last one to find out about it. Not that she’ll ever confront him. Me and my half-sister will have to drag his guilt around for him, as always. We’ll be the ones watching her walk about the garden in her nightdress, crying uncontrollably, at four in the morning. We’ll be the ones sat there, eight and six, when she walks into the room with a handful of pills and a bunch of threats that we’re too young to know are directed at us and not at herself. For fifteen years she was going to kill herself, and it took me almost that long to realise she never was.

‘I’ll do it. I swear I’ll do it.’

What she actually wanted was for someone else to sort things out for her. Quite how she thought a couple of kids could do that is beyond me, but there it is. We were a constant disappointment to her, and that wasn’t on – she had enough shit to deal with, how dare we make things worse.

‘I’ve had a terrible time.’

Haven’t we all?

‘There is such a thing as sympathy you know?’

Of course there is, it’s just a bit hard to keep up when the record keeps changing. Tammy Wynette gave way to Gloria Gaynor and thank God for that. It lasted two months. Then he was back, and despite all the bile she’d drowned us in, we had to like him again because now she did. Full circle didn’t just describe her world view, the one that started and ended with herself: it also described our lives as he moved back in and began almost immediately coming home at six in the morning with, in her words, perfume on his shirt and lipstick around his cock.

He liked Sinatra – no surprises there. Like every idiot I ever met, he thought the lyrics of My Way gave him an excuse to do whatever he wanted and justify it.

As for me, well, I have a song too. It’s called Go Fuck Yourself and I wrote it myself. There isn’t much of a melody and it doesn’t go verse, verse, chorus. But it is quite catchy, if you like that sort of thing. Every now and again I brush up on the chords and roll it out for an encore performance. It never would have made it onto Top of the Pops but I like to think John Peel might have given it the nod. The one thing it really has going for it is just how inconvenient it is for everyone involved.

Harmonic Generator

I can’t believe it’s really been so long since I last posted. That’s what getting a new job does to you. Story on jobs to follow shortly when I finish it (tentatively called ‘Search and Destroy’ that one, borrowing from a Stooges song title). Anyway, this is something I did in response to a writing group prompt on Tarot Cards. Not sure what I think of it, but there you go. Been writing so little lately I probably can’t afford to be choosey…

Harmonic Generator

There are people in Stockholm that can trace their families back for thirty generations or more. I don’t know how they do it. I can’t even trace myself back beyond a couple of years. It gets too complicated: there are so many strands, so many different decisions I took that changed who I was, and changed who I am; tiny increments, infinitesimal shifts and mutations. The only thing I’m sure of is that the older I get, and the more I know, the less certain things become. If you look too closely you’ll wish you hadn’t. The truth, any truth, is composed of elementary particles, every one of them a conflicting truth in its own right. Where does it end? It can drive you insane.

Everyone has an answer. Of course they do. In the face of the incomprehensible, what choice do you have? Without meaning we’re fucked. If there’s no meaning to be had, you’d better make some, and fast.

‘Man created God. Marx will tell you that. We just felt the need to personify Fate.’

She was a bit of a self-styled mystic this girl. She had it all figured out.

‘If I hadn’t gone to that party, we would never have met. It’s like it was supposed to happen.’

I don’t have the heart to tell her it’s called cause and effect. We covered it in second year physics. In a closed system it’s possible to predict the outcome of any event. The past is a closed system. Or to put it another way: in hindsight, you can draw any fucking conclusion you want. Like how we were meant to be together. Or how we were both lonely and at the time we thought that was worse than being with someone you have nothing in common with.

‘My psychic predicted I was going to meet someone like you.’

A man, most likely. What were the chances?

According to my palm, according to her, I’m going to live for a long time. But I’ll always be searching for happiness. The tarot cards are even better.

‘The Queen of Cups. There’s a woman in your life who is nurturing, caring and sensitive. A beacon of light.’

I don’t say anything.

‘Someone who can draw out your suffering with her sensitivity.’

She’s positively preening. The cards are telling her what she already knew – how she can heal me and fix me and chase out of my aura all these demons she thinks I have. Except from where I’m sat, opposite her, the card is inverted. I know what that means too – I looked all this shit up after the last time. The queen is an emotional wreck: manipulative, vindictive, fighting a losing battle with her self-esteem. If she convinces me I’m damaged, I’ll never leave her. I’ll listen to everything she says and do everything she says because without her I have no answers and no cure. The cards are telling me what I already know as well: that it all depends on how you look at it. That opposing things can both be true at precisely the same time. Nothing is mutually exclusive. And nothing is ever that simple.

‘I’m working on your star chart.’

Jesus Christ, I’m tied to a defining moment as well now. Is nothing my own?

‘It’ll help you understand yourself better.’

Such a shame I understand myself so well already. I did it the old fashioned way: by fucking up and working out what I needed to put right as I went along. Forget destiny, forget everyone else who was born on the fourth of May 1967 – the hard truth is you need to take responsibility for yourself. If you’re an arsehole, get over it. Or deal with it. Or change it. You’ve got nothing to blame but yourself.

‘Did you know you’re an Earth sign?’

I find it hard to care. And I wonder when I stop returning her calls if she’ll figure it all happened for a reason.

And here’s the song, which didn’t inspire this at all – just the title did. But I like it, so here it is anyway…

Unplugged (Lazarus Remix) – 7″ Fiction

This is a bit of an experiment. I wanted to do a remix of a story to put on the B-Side of a piece of 7″ fiction to mimic the way record companies like to fill up space with not-really-new material. But I had no idea how to do it. Until, that is, I stumbled upon this on Jeff Noon’s website: Dub Fiction/Remixing Narrative. It’s well worth a read if you have the time.

So I used some of the ideas here, but maybe not all of them. I wanted the remix of Unplugged to be recognisably the same story as the original. So I retained some of the text – probably more than Noon proposes you do. And I retained the basic structure. But I did use a text randomiser to mix up my metaphors a bit. And then I reworked a lot of sentences, and added some new phrases, to try and get it back to the general sense of what I was going for originally.

Anyway, yeah, the result isn’t Dub fiction. But it’s something similar I suppose. (Lazarus, by the way, is the name of the randomiser I used).

Unplugged (Lazarus Remix)

‘There’s someone for everyone.’

I regretted saying it as soon as the words were out of my mouth. I don’t know why I did it. Her loneliness made me uncomfortable I guess – it reminded me too much of my own. We could have talked about it, but no. I hit her instead with a barrage of supersonic platitudes. It was all I had: a mutant folklore; a rain slicked superstition. There’s the truth, the whole truth, and everything but the truth.

‘What do you think of David?’

David was the new guy in Accounts. I thought he was a bit of a dick. I suppose she suddenly fancied him.

‘He seems a bit of a dick.’

See, I did it again. She went quiet for a single desperate moment. I watched her pupils dilate in response to how fucking stupid I was.

I tried to set her up with my friend Karl. He was the best option I had in my remote corner of the stagnant gene pool. It didn’t work out, and I was hardly surprised. I did what I could though, isn’t that what counts? There were a few icy mornings when we met at the station to travel in to work together. But it passed – everything does.

‘You haven’t heard a thing I’ve said have you?’

She pulled me back up into her words. I don’t know where I was before she did that. I was drunk and I’d misplaced the moment.


‘You haven’t heard a word.’

A late warning flashed brightly in my head, but as usual I ignored it. There was too much coming at me at once: a winter bassline, a pulsing dancefloor; a misplaced honesty, the orange light of nausea. I was three shots away from cradling the pavement.


I listened to myself from a distance. My voice was out there on the shortwave and I was at the other end struggling to tune in the signal. It was weak and pocked with static, like her sister’s voice on the phone when she pulled me into the ladies toilet to talk to her.

She shrugged. She unplugged herself from me. I watched her until I could get away. It took three half-arsed minutes – it felt like six billion – and then she was gone for good.

Unplugged (7″ Fiction)

There’s someone for everyone. How’s that for a platitude? With the gene pool creaking at just over six billion, you’d think that has to be true. But considering I’ll only ever meet a handful of those people, well, the future probably looks slightly less promising after all.

We worked together through the dog days of a lingering winter. On the mornings when the rain slicked the pavements, she drove us there. When it turned to ice I met her at the station and we took the train in together.

‘What do you think of David?’

‘Who’s David?’

‘The new guy in Accounts.’

I didn’t know she fancied him. ‘He seems a bit of a dick.’

She was quiet for a moment.

‘Yeah, I suppose he does.’

I tried to set her up with my friend Karl, but she was having none of it. I couldn’t really blame her. He was a dick too – I’d misjudged how desperate she was.

It ended badly anyway. She got a better job and twelve of us went for drinks on payday weekend. I only remember two of the five bars we hit. I was so drunk I missed all the signs; I missed everything.

‘Come here and talk to my sister on the phone.’

She pulled me into the ladies toilet and I slurred some half-arsed, embarrassed nonsense until I could get away. Later, we were stood at the edge of a dancefloor and I suddenly realised she’d been talking to me for about twenty minutes. How did that happen? I strained to pick out her words over the supersonic bass of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition.

‘You haven’t heard a word I’ve said have you?’

‘No.’ My compulsive honesty is often quite badly misplaced.

She shrugged and knocked back three shots in a row. I watched her pupils dilate in the pulsing orange light. Tomorrow morning it would hit me – a weak radio signal caught up in the shortwaves of nausea – just how fucking stupid I was.

Ten Things Jackie Wilson Never Said

1993 was a bad year. The first Suede record came out and it ruined my sex life. It brought with it an early, glammed up prototype of the urban metrosexual, and I had no chance. I was too tall, too heavy, and just a fraction too hairy for the small, slim-hipped androgynous ideal. It wasn’t for the lack of effort, but I got nowhere. The elfin indie girls would scatter at my galumphing approach and I sought refuge in folk music where being an ugly fucker didn’t seem to matter so much.

’94 promised better things. Anyone with a pair of trainers and a Ben Sherman polo shirt could score. The chances increased if you had a decent pair of sideburns and called yourself a geezer. I wasn’t much of a geezer. Shit. So much for that then. I bought the entire Richard Thompson back catalogue, and it wasn’t even very good.

I wasn’t without my moments in the dubious sun. I was socially inept. This somehow made me the poster boy for the socially defeated. I guess everyone has their place in the grand design.

‘I wrote about you on my blog.’

‘That’s, er, great.’

‘I’m home all week. Why don’t you drop by?’

I didn’t drop by. Let’s skip forward a few days.

‘You didn’t come. I waited for you. I hate you and now all my friends hate you.’

The only way this stuff ever ends is with a flourish. Not from me – I hate drama. I prefer to let things burn out slowly; I cover my nose and throat and live through the grey haze until it finally dissipates. I’m sure that’s the problem. Is a short, sharp pain better than lingering detachment? Maybe, but it isn’t a choice I seem able to make.

‘Is it because I’m not six foot and blonde?’

Hmm. Maybe it was more because she was a borderline sociopath. I wasn’t that fussy, but still.

‘I’m going to tell everyone how much of a wanker you are.’

Goddamn it. The first Sparklehorse album was just around the corner too. I could have done something with that.


Another piece of 7″ fiction. I can’t fucking stop it. I had a truly shitty day and I turned even that into a story. Before anyone says anything, I know ‘indignance’ isn’t a word, but it should be. And it fits the meter of the sentence better than ‘indignation’ does. It’s my story and I’ll write whatever shit I want, ok?


When Hope Sandoval sings, I feel my subconscious stirring. It rolls and slithers about in its special place in my cortex, and it whispers to me about becoming a better person. I ignore it. My being a bit of a prick is something we don’t like to talk about. An omerta hangs over our house on the subject. We carry on regardless and I leave Julia to make her apologies for me.

‘I’m going out dickhead.’

‘Fine. Don’t fucking come back.’

I don’t even know what we’re arguing about. I wasn’t listening. Maybe that’s what we were arguing about.

I put the whole thing to one side. I assign it with a mistake catalogue number of 34,587 and slip it in between getting married, and getting divorced. I’ll never find it again. I like my filing technique to be deliberately chaotic. The Dewey system didn’t work for me: I tried it, but it just gave people the chance to rattle off lists of how I fucked up from the index cards.

‘What’s the opposite of a charm offensive?’

‘What?’ I’m trying to watch some shit on the TV that I’m not even interested in.

‘A charm offensive. What’s the opposite of that?’

‘How should I know?’

‘Well, you seem to be fucking running with one.’

She’s not wrong I suppose. It used to be different. I craved high opinion, but being obnoxious has a street value of millions. The first hit makes you sick to your stomach. Two or three more and it owns you. Fixes are everywhere: the kid who inadvertently nudges me when getting off the train; the girl who takes too long at the cash machine in front of me. Once in, there’s no way out. The rush of indignance is the only thing that keeps self-loathing at bay.

She’s with me, I know, because she won’t give up. She once caught a glimmer of somebody else behind the cold front I push through the world. I suspect she might be wrong. That ghost she saw is as irritating as me, he’s just slightly less obvious about it.

‘I’m back.’ Of course she is.

‘I’m sorry.’ About what, I have no idea.

Bukowski, poetry, my daughter, and me

It’s no great secret that I’m a big fan of Bukowski. I don’t buy into his image in the way that some people do, I just think he produced some tremendous sentences. Say what you like about him – I don’t care – the guy could fucking write.

It’s rumoured he got through two or three poems a day. Now, I’ve said before, poetry isn’t really my thing. I like it well enough, I just don’t write it. I put a poem up here a few weeks back and I’m still a bit uncomfortable about it. It seems to have a touch of the old sixth form pretention still to me. However, I suspect Bukowski used poetry as a way to keep his creativity flowing. I go through massive slumps myself. In fact, my creativity is something like the ice ages – I’ve had several mini ones recently, but the last great climate shift was about four years back. At the moment I’m going through another. In the last month I’ve written four chapters of a novel, a poem (hmm), and now five pieces of flash fiction. That’s positively insane for me. I think the flash fiction holds the key. Just grab an idea and write it out. Don’t put it aside and think ‘I might be able to use that at some point’. Maybe I’m writing poetry for the prose generation. Maybe I’m writing prose for the text generation. Maybe that’s all absolute bollocks, and the point is I’m just writing – for the sake of it. (I know which one I’m going for – have had an inordinate amount of red wine).

Someone in my writing group asked me, about two months back, why all my stuff is about dysfunction. My answer was I don’t think you get to choose. She suggested I write something about love. My initial reaction was to say ok, and then ignore the idea. Actually, no, my initial reaction was to vomit up my sleeve and then to say ok and ignore the idea. But that’s probably because I’m a bit of a dick sometimes. Aren’t we all?

Today, I’ve been working on something that I suspect is in part a response to that suggestion, and in part an antidote to the moronic end of the world story I did yesterday. I don’t really know what it is. It isn’t flash fiction really. Is it some sort of confessional? Perhaps. With the exception of having spliced together different conversations into one, it’s pretty much all true. As true as anything ever is:

Hard to Explain

My daughter calls me Dude. I have no idea why this is. She always has. As soon as she wrapped her ten month old tongue around the word Daddy she decided it tasted wrong; it was bland, strangely textured, a processed noun with the nutrition stripped out.

‘Hey Dude.’

‘Hey monkey girl. What you up to?’

Sometimes I dread to ask, but I always do anyway. The inside of her head is densely packed with an imagination that consistently reminds me of the banality of life. I picture it as a fluorescent jungle in there: a whole spectrum of neon synapses, tangled and overlaid like vines in a primordial forest.

‘I’m drawing a picture of a fox that thinks it’s a dinosaur.’ Of course she is.

‘It’s a girl.’ She pronounces it gurl – again, I have no idea why.

‘She has balloon feet.’

She squeals with laughter at this last bit. It’s infectious. Breton has nothing on this girl. You can write a manifesto or you can live your dreams.

Until she came along, I had no grasp on all the things that love can be. With her it’s fundamental, beyond analysis; beneath the bedrock and absolute/elusive. I’ve cried before now just watching her sleep. Which isn’t to say she doesn’t drive me insane. When she wants something she warps the world around me. She knows disorientation is the key.

‘I like this song Dude. Is this your favourite?’

‘One of them, yeah.’

‘It’s my favourite too.’

She tries to sing the chorus in her five year old mezzo-soprano. The quickest way to a father’s heart is through his record collection. Every time, I burst out laughing – and by then she’s already won.

When she was two, she had a massive asthma attack. We almost lost her. It happened while I was at work and I drove home in a panic. The ninety minute journey took me just under an hour. I pulled up at our house and found nobody home. I drove around to the doctor’s surgery and got there ten seconds before her grandmother wheeled her around the corner in a pushchair.


It was one of the few times she’s used that name. She belted it out with all the lung capacity she had and it made her breathing all the more laboured. I took in her painful, shallow breaths. I took in her pale face and her ravaged eyes. But that look of delight mixed with relief when she saw me – that will haunt me until the end of my life and yours. I was there. Her mum was on her way, but I was there. In her infant mind that now meant everything would be alright. The absolute trust that displayed cut a cold, burning strip from the corner of my soul. Because I didn’t deserve it – I couldn’t help her. Only the nurses could do that by pumping magnesium into her veins. The worst thing of all is that I suspect she knew that as well, even then. But it didn’t matter to her. If she died, she was going to do it with me, and that was ok too.

‘Dude? Are you ok?’

‘I’m fine kid.’ I usually don’t think about this stuff until after she’s in bed.

‘I need an ice cream.’

‘Do you need one or want one?’

It’s a fine line between what they want and what they need, and she doesn’t make it any easier for me.

‘No, I definitely need one.’

She glances over at the stereo. I get up and go to the freezer before she even starts on The Strokes.